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Past and Present: The Pride Of The Interurban

Six Miles of Local History / Flickr

In the 1910s, a person in Kansas City who wanted to attend the University of Kansas-University of Missouri game in Lawrence only needed to take the trolley to the station of the Kaw Valley Interurban, where trains left every hour on the half hour.

Their relatives in Galena could take the Joplin-Pittsburg Railway east to Joplin, Mo., or south and west to the mines. Their friends in Wichita could take the Arkansas Valley Interurban to Newton or Hutchinson.

In the early years of the 20th century, when roads were poor or even nonexistent in many places in Kansas, and when automobiles were still a novelty, the average person got around a local area by boarding transportation systems called "interurbans" that connected cities with outlying areas.

Sometimes, they were development tools, as when William Strang developed what was known as the “Strang Line” out of Kansas City to his new development of Overland Park or out to the still distant town of Olathe.

Some were like trolleys and others more akin to small railways running trains of coaches pulled by gasoline or electric powered cars instead of locomotives. Packed cars transported workers to and from their jobs, took people from rural areas and new suburbs into town for their holiday shopping, or allowed urbanites an easy jaunt out to the countryside.

Interurbans were at their peak in the 1910s, only to suffer in the 1920s when the automobile and better roads began developing-- thanks in part to Kansans such as Woody Hockaday, who helped lay out highways in the state, and Kansas-born automobile magnate Walter Chrysler.

So, as we whisk our way over the prairies, perhaps we should also take time to remember an age when interurbans were the pride of many Kansas communities and someone else did the driving.

Jay M. Price is chair of the department of history at Wichita State University, where he also directs the public history program.